Interviewed by: Adrian Hextall
Photo Credit Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media
With latest album, ‘I Am Human’ available on March 30th, the rock act from Las Vegas, Nevada, recently toured the UK and also made it back to Camden for a gig at KOKO, an area they fondly refer to as their favorite part of the City.
Formed in 2005, the band are signed to Eleven Seven Music and returned on the back of a very successful campaign with previous album ‘Hate Me’. Consisting of founder Robert Ortiz (drummer), Craig Mabbitt (lead vocalist), TJ Bell (rhythm guitarist and vocalist), Kevin “Thrasher” Gruft (lead guitarist) and touring musician Erik Jensen (bassist), the show was something else, showcasing a band that has clearly matured and grown over the last couple of albums. Eschewing their earlier metal core , screamo approach to music, the band are gradually morphing into a solid hard rock act, passionate still about what they do but on the cusp, it feels, of making that bold step into arena headlining shows. We spoke to Kevin and Robert to see what the band had been up to for the last couple of years.
AH: I was actually looking at the KOKO’s website today because of course you’re on there for tonight’s show. There’s a really interesting comment in there as well as talking about the previous album and saying how at the time you felt like its was the best thing you’d ever produced. And I mean that’s a look back with the new one coming out but has your opinion changed? How do you feel about the new one? Do you think you’ve made that step up again?
KTG: I absolutely like can confidently say yes.
KTG: You know every time you do a record, you put everything that you have into it. And two years later, you grow as a musician, as a person, as a lyricist and then you put everything you’ve got into the next ones. So every time you do that,you feel like this is the best I’ve got because you just wanna do the best job on your work, on your art.
AH: You’ve got that smile on your face as well. So that feeling of–
KTG: Well I– Yeah, I smile ’cause this is like it was a trying process. We dug so deep into ourselves. So far you know– but, now being able to talk about this record as it’s done is a very freeing and a very beautiful thing.
RO: Well, I think the main thing that I’ve learned from the last one is that, ’cause every record although I love everything, its like your children you know. Like you produce it, you’ve created it and you marvel at what to take, what to do out in the world.
RO: But its like– I always knew there was something more. Its like, “Well I don’t like this song or I don’t like that song”. And then Craig told me this time around, he’s like “Bro, you like the most songs you’ve ever liked on this album than you ever have. You should be so happy.” I’m like, “You’re right.” And I started to realize that, the reality is that as a band you are– we are a fair band in essence where each individual has their moment.
RO: And as a respect to each other. We allow each other to pursue our dreams no matter how much we fight over it. And so I know that for me personally, I’m the most satisfied with the contributions I made. I feel the most artistically, I guess yes, satisfied. And I know that the other guys feel the same with their contributions. And so collectively we know that we’ve got some hits from each individual song. And although this song may not connect to this many fans, and this song might connect to more fans. Whatever the case maybe.
RO: We all have each others backs and I think now more so than ever because we’ve seen how passionate each individual was over what we do. And I think for that alone, that feeling of like “Damn, I needed this and I’ve got it.” It’s more so than I’ve ever felt in my entire career.
AH: I like that. There was an interesting quote that’s from an article on the site as well. That was talking about this approach almost, at least from in relation to the last album, “Who cares what people think about you.” Now, of course, you do care of what people think about you. But you shouldn’t let it stifle the creativity I imagine.
KTG: Right. You’re always going to care what people think. Even if you don’t care about what people think. And if you try not care too much then you’re still caring about– [Laughing] It’s all about it.
AH: You know it’s almost impossible not to care, isn’t.
KTG: Yeah, exactly. It’s a subtle art of not giving a f***.
RO: It’s– I’ve always been that way. I’ve always lived my life that way. I don’t look at the charts, I don’t look on whose the most popular rock artist. I don’t care if I was listening to The Beatles everyday. You know, I wasn’t about Slayer. I do my thing and some days yeah, we bring different styles. I look like a Schizophrenic person or Bipolar walking into the studio talking about the, “this would be a thash metal band one day and then writing an acoustic ballad the next.” You know, you just do you, whatever feels right.
If you want to experiment and do some weird things, just f*cking do it you know. Because ultimately, there’s gonna be a segment of the population that’s gonna get it, and segments that’s not. You just hope for the best and if you follow any type of trend, you are already behind. So you do what sounds good to you. If it is inspired by latest trend, cool. If it is inspired by something old, cool. If it’s just– you’re just hitting buttons and this is what happen, then cool, you know if your waking up in the middle of the night just writing your lyrics, that you know you’ve just been trying to get out. Then–
AH: Somebody has to set the next trend, don’t they?
KTG: I’ll think will come through time and experience too doing the stuff. It’s like I think this record. I’ve just learned to really– you know after really examining my last 12 years of being a professional musician, I’m just like thinking back. And I’m like, “What are the things that worked and what are the things that I like the most?” Those were things that I really did follow my gut even though you know at times you do things sometimes like– I think people are gonna like this one but this time I wasn’t letting a song go by without you know feeling like I put my personal stamp of approval on it. And even like with the guitar solo, for example like, I did all that recording at home or I could spend the entire day working out the guitar solo if I wanted to record it, listen back to it the next day in my car. I’m like, “Do I really like it? Or could I improve it? Could be better.” And then some things that I re-recorded, some things that I really like, the magic that I captured. The certain thing went for the songwriting and production of this thing.
AH: You mentioned solos.
AH: Specifically, the one that I want to talk to on ‘I Will Make it Up To You’…..
AH: Now… that’s a solo!!
RO: Bro, one take.[Laughing]
AH: That? I mean, honestly that harks back to– the sort of songs that got me into rock music.
AH: And is that solo is like, sh*t. You have to rewind this, go to play that again.
AH: It was one of the breaks of the album where you always need a song that triggers the repeat play button.
AH: We’re only four songs in and at that point you already really got me.
RO: Wow, yeah.
KTG: Thanks, man. Yeah. These guys were working on the song in the other room, I was working on some other song. And like put a lead on here, I say ” I guess, okay.” So just pick up like a 7 string guitar that should normally play. Kind of like, rip a couple of ideas in front of them and I was like, “Go! I like that one.”
RO: Yeah, yeah. You were tracking. You want to go like bathroom or something like ” Yow! Come in, just lay down something real quick and I mean obviously he went to re-record it, nail it a little more but it was an essence. You freestyle that dude, I heard that I’m like, “Oh my God, dude! This is so sick dude! I f*cking love that dude.” It’s so good.
AH: So good, definitely. Definitely, nicely done.
RO: I think it’s because those chords are rounded. Let it like “Come so we could sing!” You know, he’s not competing with the rest of us, it was just– it just speaks through him.
KTG: Also that other thing that I’m learning is like listening to yourself but also instinct especially at music. Sometimes it’s like, I wasn’t thinking I was, “All right, I got pissed totally. Forgets the guitar, I think I have to get back on track.” So you just do something like whatever feels good and you’re not really thinking. Sometimes you really get some great stuff. Jimmy Hendrix, or Stevie Ray Vaughan said, “If I find myself thinking about the music and not just following my heart, it tends to come out bad.”
AH: Yeah. Just let it flow.
AH: You’ve got a lot of the emotion in some of this songs and I mean the lyrics are quite heart-felt at times?
AH: It really start you make listen to what’s going on. It’s not just a music thing, it’s definitely a content thing as well. Is that still difficult to write? You know that level of depth?
KTG: As long as we skip on living our lives and being in a band and being dramatic creatures.
RO: You know the lyrics that coming out
KTG: The lyrics are endless.
RO: Its almost. Its easier in a lot of ways because I think we just or I think we are more comfortable now and I think as I’ve said in the last interviews. While it is how I think we’re allowing ourselves to be a little bit more vulnerable for lack of better term straight up with the lyrics.
And its interesting you bring up to solos. It’s like almost forget because we do so hard on the lyrics and I’m so captivated by what everyone is saying with these songs. I almost forget how great those things are but yet we put a large emphasis on that.
You know I think just maybe its experience that you just you know if it feels right or it doesn’t. And that’s in those a lot of songs that got cut out. And, “Yeah, I don’t know. It’s not hitting right.” And you know we will be doing contractually. “F*ck you! This is my heart man, f*ck you!”. But it just wasn’t working. So there is like this system were you know we eventually all got to say what we needed to say for ourselves. And those concepts came out you know and there’s a filter where everyone pushing each other to be even better. So its f*cking cool man.
AH: What about the desire to play a lot of it. I mean if you look at the material on your last album which is the one really sort of triggered me to listen to your music. Combining with this one as well you’ve got more than a sets worth of material already plus the history of the band and tracks that you know your long term fans are gonna wants as well.
AH: It’s gonna be difficult now ’cause you gonna want a piece of this in the set as well.
RO: Super hard, we argued to no end about setlist and we all have our favorite songs but this album particular as one that the majority of the band wanted to play most songs from the new record. Last time we came here with ‘Hate..’ man and we’re just playing couple of the songs, the new songs.
KTG: Yeah it’s definitely gone a little more difficult with the catalogue now.
RO: And there’s more of these new songs they want to play. You know, I think that would be cool to do a longer headliner set.
AH: There’s unknown tracks on the new album but it’s not gonna take long for the fans to buy into these. They’re buying into the band and they’re gonna stick and the songs that stick will be the ones that ultimately your fans are going to come back and wanna hear.
RO: Right. Yeah, that’s nice.
AH: You’re out with Papa Roach next I believe?
RO: Yeah. So it’s gonna be very nostalgic tour for us and it’s gonna be overseas. And it’s gonna be really f*cking special.
AH: Overseas for you or overseas from here?
RO: Overseas for– all I could say is obviously for us. I could say that for sure. I can’t say overseas for you or not but it definitely will happen….
Leaving Robert and Kevin to prepare for the gig, our review of the even can be found here: